Like many a basketball coach — any coach, for that matter — Jeff Dunlap worshipped at the altar of John Wooden, so it’s no surprise the former UCLA player will take a page from the playbook of the late, great Bruins’ coach that Dunlap expects the St. John’s Edge to follow this season.
“I believe in what I’m teaching,” Dunlap said Wednesday, as the media got its first glimpse at the St. John’s Edge, the newest National Basketball League of Canada squad holding training camp at the Newfoundland and Labrador Training Centre. “I always say, ‘know what you teach, teach what you know.’
“It’s an old UCLA system that goes back to John Wooden that I believe in. I know it, I respect it, I understand it.
“It’s about speed and quickness moreso than size, about how quickly you can cover the floor, how quickly you can get the ball up the floor. Wooden was a big fast break guy. Kids love to dribble today. I want the ball in the air. I want to beat you up the floor on the fly rather than on the bounce.”
That was on display at the PowerPlex Wednesday morning, as Dunlap and assistant coach Doug Plumb engaged their players in an up-tempo, upbeat 90-minute workout.
Sixteen players, adorned in blue and gold workout attire — complete with a nifty little Newfoundland and Labrador flag on the shorts — are currently in camp. A 17th, Vernon Goodridge, formerly of NCAA D1 programs at LaSalle and Mississippi State, ran into travel problems and wasn’t expected in St. John’s until Wednesday. Two more players, currently attending NBA-G League camps, are expected to arrive in St. John’s by the weekend.
Dunlap, a 54-year-old Californian, is a career basketball guy, having played college ball with the storied Bruins before embarking on a coaching journey that’s taken him from junior college to North Carolina State University.
NC State was his last stop, where he was director of basketball operations until a purge of the coaching staff led to his ouster last year.
So after years of recruiting and serving as an assistant at schools such as NC State, Alabama, Georgia, Loyola University-Chicago and Cal State-Fullerton, Dunlap is back at the helm as a head coach.
And it’s a challenge he’s very excited to tackle.
“I’ve been in the game for so long, but the last time I was a head coach was 1993 (junior college in California), and I loved it,” he said. “Then I started this path of wanting to move up the college ranks. You’re an assistant here, and then you jump to a different level there, and then you’d have a setback, then something else comes up. Then, all of a sudden, your wheels get knocked off the track and what I was chasing wasn’t there.
“When I lost my job at NC State, here I was again looking to recycle into the college game, and it would have been as an assistant. That’s just how it is.
“When this opportunity came up, I thought, ‘Wow! 1. I get to coach my own team. 2. I get to put in my own system, a system that I believe in and that I love.’ So lets see if it works. Why not have a little fun with it.
“So far it’s been fantastic.”
Despite his experience, it will be a learning experience for Dunlap, too, who is no longer coaching teens, but veterans who’ve been around the block once or twice in the various pro leagues in North America, Europe and Asia.
“You coach pro players different, differently than you do boys. I’m learning that. You’re addressing a 32-year-old who has been around, and they have to buy into what I’m teaching. So that message has to be sound, has to be accurate, has to be correct.
“They’ve been coached by some really good people, for a long time. They, too, are looking at you and wondering if you know what you’re talking about.
“Not that I feel pressured. It’s actually exciting.”
The Edge has an intrasquad scrimmage next Thursday night at Mile One Centre (which is open to the public), and Dunlap said there will not be any cuts until then.
He will open the season with a dozen players on the roster.
“I’d like to let them get to that first scrimmage where they can be out there with referees, and I can actually watch them with the lights on,” Dunlap said.
“Some guys are just gamers. When the lights come on, and the referees are on the court, next thing you know they turn into Michael Jordan, and it’s like, ‘Where have you been?’
“That can happen. So I have to let that happen.”
The Edge open their season Nov. 18 in Charlottetown, P.E.I against the Island Storm. It’s the first of five straight road games before the season-opening weekend Dec. 1-2 against the Niagara River Lions. The Edge play again Tuesday and Wednesday, Dec. 5-6, against the London Lightning.